Loveland, Colorado

CEO Dustin Finkel sees major growth opportunities for the two existing food brands within his company’s portfolio as well as by providing contract manufacturing to CPG companies.

“We found there was a great synergy,” says Finkel, the founder of Ka-Pop!, about joining forces with Jeff Schmidgall, the co-founder of Bubba’s Fine Foods. For Finkel, he found a simpatico partner to manufacture his brand’s sorghum-based puffed and extruded snack foods. And Schmidgall’s line of keto-friendly granola and baked chips benefit from Finkel’s executive background, which includes 20 years experience within the world of consumer packaged goods — from General Mills to Horizon Organics to WhiteWave Foods.

Finkel and Schmidgall now co-own Awakened Foods, a company which includes Ka-Pop! and Bubba’s as entities within it (although the latter has subsequently been re-branded as B. Fine Foods). And there’s a crucial third component, as well: a co-packing division titled Awakened Food Crafters.

While Bubba’s did some limited work in the contract manufacturing space beforehand, there’s now a greater emphasis being placed on that leg of the business. “We work with three very large CPG companies,” says Finkel about his clients. Although he can’t name them, Finkel allows that some of the upcoming product categories will be different than what Ka-Pop! or Bubba’s presently offers. Awakened also works with another10 companies which already annually do somewhere between “$10 [million] to $30 million in revenue.”

Finkel adds, “We have about 20 different companies in our pipeline for future manufacturing. So, what I mean by that is, they’re either in the R&D phase or in the onboarding phase or in the trial phase. They’re somewhere in that process of going into full-scale production.”

In order to accommodate the work it’s doing for Ka-Pop! and additional brands, Schmidgall’s existing facility has already increased from around 17,000 square feet to 25,000. And it may add another 10,000 or 20,000 square feet within the next year in order to house, partially, more warehouse space — because the “bigger you grow, the more you product the more you have to store,” says Finkel.

One part of the facility manufactures items like baked goods and granolas — which may include nuts.

The other side — “separated by fixed walls and unique ventilation equipment,” writes Finkel in a follow-up email — produces Top 12 allergen-free, puffed and extruded food items like Ka-Pop! Snacks. So, on the “bakehouse” side there are numerous rack ovens and a seasoning drum. And, on the “puffery” side, there’s a screw extruder and multiple compression poppers. There’s separate packaging equipment on each side, as well. But the entire facility is gluten-free, vegan, keto friendly, and certified paleo.

“We want to be a facilitator for entrepreneurial growth for both small companies that are emerging, as well as the largest CPGs in the country,” says Finkel, who offers business advice (sometimes unsolicited, he adds) to companies of all sizes. “Interestingly, big CPGs, like the ones I used to work for, are very good at producing a lot of one thing. They are not good operationally at producing small runs for innovative items.” He says Awakened Food Crafters allows larger CPGs to “almost be entrepreneurial and test and learn through smaller execution.”

Since joining forces with Schmidgall, Finkel says Ka-Pop! has seen close to 150 percent growth in 2021. And the rebranding for Bubba’s to B. Fine Foods has been “incredibly successful,” leading to more interest from major retailers. Furthermore, their manufacturing ability is nowhere near capacity, allowing Awakened Food Crafters to take on even more clients: “We could probably double our size quite easily.”

As a holding company, Awakened Foods counts Ka-Pop! and B. Fine Foods and Awakened Food Crafters as “separate entities.” That means they can be combined. Sold off. Or other food companies can be incubated under the company’s umbrella.

Photos courtesy Awakened Foods

In 2021, the goal for Finkel and Schmidgall was putting Awakened Foods together, “seeing what works and what doesn’t.” This year, it’s all about making a bigger mark for the company, based upon serving additional clients.

Finkel says, “If we can execute against all these amazing opportunities, we will be at the forefront of a holding company model that executes both branded offerings incredibly well and co-manufacturing.”

Challenges: “Making sure we provide the right infrastructure to execute the best ways possible for our clients,” says Finkel. Additionally, it’s being able to raise funds to be able to “afford top-tier talent.”

Opportunities: “There’s so many clients that want to work with us,” says Finkel. “We’ve seen so much success for the brands.”

Needs: “Cash. Money. Always could [use] more money,” says Finkel.